The Value Of Practice Tests In Student Learning

Dear Academic Approach Families & Colleagues: Do practice tests impact student learning? Over a decade’s worth of our own data indicates that they do. For our students who started with a diagnostic score below 20 on the ACT, the inclusion of four additional practice test opportunities as part of their instructional program led to nearly twice as much growth. For all our students, purposefully incorporating practice test opportunities leads to higher growth. Why does practice testing matter? It’s not because rote repetition (drill and kill) works; in fact, testing alone or in excess is ineffective. It’s the learning & teaching opportunity the testing presents that matters. The Learning Opportunity Research suggests that the very experience of test taking can be a meaningful learning activity because it engages students in practicing retrieval of core curriculum and problem-solving. This practice should be incorporated into learning in many ways: through intentional questioning and feedback during an instructional session, completing homework to reinforce, as well as practice testing. However, the real value for students from practice testing is in the experience of learning from their errors. For over 20 years, I’ve encouraged my students to understand the following: there is no true learning without the analysis of error. Developing error tolerance helps students engage in active, exploratory, problem-solving. Especially if our goal is optimal performance in high-stakes testing, we need to encourage students to allow themselves to make and correct errors while taking low-stakes practice tests. As parents and educators, we often focus on guiding our students to avoid errors at all costs, while error analysis, in fact, engenders learning. Fail forward; F.A.I.L. (First Attempt in Learning); mistakes are opportunities to learn —it’s important to encourage students to absorb mistake-making into their process of learning. The Teaching Opportunity Above all, knowledge of student errors helps the teacher improve instruction. Research on formative assessment (Black & Wiliam 1998; Dunn & Mulvenon 2009) shows that assessments used by teachers to focus instruction can drive learning. Analysis of student performance on assessments can indicate areas of difficulty where instruction should be focused and provide the teacher evidence of student thinking and misconceptions. What’s critical then is the feedback the teacher provides that drives student learning, which research has shown to be among the top influences on student achievement. Clear, timely feedback leads students to self-reflect and modify their problem-solving strategies while guiding them towards new learning and growth. Practice testing can play a critical role in this important cycle of feedback, instruction, and learning. We encourage our students to find time for practice testing. While it requires that commitment of time, the learning and growth practice test-taking engenders is compelling. Be well, Matthew Pietrafetta, Ph.D., Founder & CEO

By |2022-01-18T17:01:22+00:00February 25, 2021|Letter|Comments Off on The Value Of Practice Tests In Student Learning

The Future of the ACT Essay

Dear Academic Approach Families & Colleagues: In our recent communication on the elimination of the SAT essay, we said we would keep you posted on the future of the ACT essay. What’s the trend with the ACT essay? We expect to see the ACT essay also retired in time, and the trend in college admissions requirements supports this prediction. At this point, the list of schools that actually require the ACT essay continues to diminish to a smaller and smaller set of schools, most of which are not target schools for our students: • Elizabeth City State University (NC) • Hobe Sound Bible College (FL) • Molloy College (NY) • Portland State University (OR) • Soka University of America (CA) • Southwest School of Arts (TX) • United States Military Academy (West Point) (NY) • University of Mary Hardin-Baylor (TX) • University of Montana Western (MT) • VanderCook College of Music (IL) • Wyoming Catholic College (WY) • York College of Pennsylvania (PA) Why has the ACT essay lost relevance? As an assessment of spontaneous writing, the ACT Essay has always been of debated value. While its grading rubric is intelligent, thoughtful, and useful in helping students cultivate college-ready persuasive essay writing skills, its grading (which happens under incredible time duress) and its placement (40 minutes at the end of a 3-hour exam) raise questions about the reliability of its results. By contrast, several years of essay writing grades in high school serve admissions officers as a far better index to a student’s writing ability. So what should you do? As a result, we are recommending that students do NOT register for the Essay Writing portion of the ACT going forward. Focus instead on the English, Math, Reading, and Science portions of the exam, which offer relevant academic insights into a student’s college readiness in addition to the student’s GPA from the high school classroom. Students should focus on their writing in the classroom as well as work on college application essays to demonstrate their authentic writing skills more effectively. As always, consult with your college counseling team regarding specific advice on your testing plan, as they are your best advocates for a comprehensive review of your admissions approach. Be well, Matthew Pietrafetta, Ph.D., Founder & CEO

By |2022-01-18T17:05:40+00:00February 16, 2021|Letter|Comments Off on The Future of the ACT Essay

MAP Testing, Learning Loss, And Supporting Our Middle School Students

Dear Academic Approach Families & Colleagues: As students and families look ahead to the remainder of the school year, many are considering how to make the most of the remaining months of school and best assess ongoing student needs and gaps. We’ve discussed before the importance of assessment as a tool for providing targeted support for students; for our middle schoolers, the NWEA MAP test can provide great insight into individual student gaps and needs that may have emerged or progressed over the last year. With most students receiving hybrid or remote instruction at this point in the school year, the MAP test may be even more important in increasing visibility into student progress than it has been in the past. We also know the importance of individualized instruction in closing learning gaps and supporting students as they advance. Assessments like the MAP test are only useful to students if they can use the feedback from that test to learn and grow. The best instruction is rooted in understanding and addressing a specific student’s needs. We can use our diagnostic test to get the information sooner and have more immediate remedies to learning loss. Let us know if we can help. Be well, Matthew Pietrafetta, Ph.D., Founder & CEO

By |2022-01-18T17:08:47+00:00February 9, 2021|Letter|Comments Off on MAP Testing, Learning Loss, And Supporting Our Middle School Students
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